By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — Despite being winners of nine of their first 10 games, the Lower Cape May Regional High School boys basketball team hadn’t gained a lot of respect in some circles.
The theory, by some, was that the Tigers hadn’t yet played a top-flight team and it was only a matter of time before more competitive opponents performed a market correction on the team’s record.
That talk can now stop.
In its first big test of the season, Lower Cape May passed with flying colors by using hot shooting and late-game composure to score a 65-58 win over Holy Spirit. The victory kept the Caper Tigers atop a crowded field in the Cape-Atlantic National Conference, which figures to feature a four-team race all the way to the finish.
Lower improved to 10-1 overall, 4-0 in CAL National games. Spirit fell to 7-5, 3-2. Ocean City (8-2, 3-1) and Mainland (8-4, 2-1) are also expected to challenge for the title.
“We knew that to make a little bit of a name for ourselves we had to beat one of the bigger teams in our division and Holy Spirit is absolutely one of them,” Lower coach Scott Holden said. “This is a signature win for our kids.
“Last week we beat EHT, who I have a lot of respect for, and that was a big step for us. But beating Holy Spirit, this is something our kids really needed. I hope they savor it and take what we did here into the next game.”
Lower shot a sizzling 60 percent from the floor (15 for 25) in the first half in building a 37-27 lead at the break. The Tigers then scored the first two points of the third quarter to open their largest lead at 12 points.
Spirit rallied at various points from there and once closed to within a point and had the ball in the fourth quarter, but the Spartans never tied the contest or took the lead. With Lower ahead by five points midway through the final period, a Holy Spirit player was whistled for a technical foul.
Sophomore Martin Anguelov, who finished with a game-high 24 points, helped ice the victory by making 5 of 6 free throws in the final three minutes. Dave Durham, who added 11 points and eight rebounds, also scored a critical basket late in the contest.
Despite being face guarded for most of the game, Anguelov managed to shoot 7 for 13 from the floor, including 3 for 7 on three-point shots. He also had five steals.
“We’re seeing growth in Martin as a point guard,” Holden said. “I know he played point guard when he was younger, but it’s a different thing at the high school level when teams are really keying on you and they’re trying to take you out of the game. He still has room to grow but there’s definitely been a progression. He’s gotten a lot better as the season’s gone on.”
Holy Spirit did its best to limit Anguelov, who is among South Jersey’s top scorers at 23.8 points per game. But in the first half, especially, the rest of the Caper Tigers did their part. Ronnie Jackson, Pat Moore and Tom Gault each hit three-pointers and Durham scored three baskets in the lane in the opening half.
“I always preach a team game,” Holden said. “Everyone has an important role. Martin’s a kid who plays basketball 365 days a year and our other kids don’t. They’re all willing to accept their roles. (Holy Spirit) played some junk defense against us but we hit some shots and they had to come out of it.”
Jackson added 10 points and seven assists. He also drew a critical charging foul on a Holy Spirit player late in the game.
Lower Cape May shot 23 for 43 from the floor (53.5 percent) for the game, including 9 for 19 on three-point shots (47.4 percent).
Christian Kalinowski netted 23 points to lead Holy Spirit.
Lower Cape May faces another important CAL National game Thursday at Ocean City.